The moment I wake up, I say a little prayer for all of us.
I’m thankful that we have Contini At Home to keep us focused. I’m thankful that we have tasks and have a distraction from this limbo. I know many of you are finding this time harder than before. First time it felt temporary, this time it feels permanent. Nonna has even threatened to picket Parliament if she’s stuck with us until May. I know how she feels.
The Director of Public Health in Sheffield confirmed this week that Hospitality has never been a Coronavirus hotspot. The bulk of transmissions have always been in people’s homes. This has been backed up by further studies that showed that the “Eat Out to Help Out”campaign didn’t contribute to an increase in Covid numbers. With more reports of increases in home drinking and restaurants in Scotland having been banned since October from serving alcohol, why have we been penalised so harshly? These actions have had so many negative financial and emotional consequences.
I have a very selfish dilemma, some of the same feelings as last lockdown. Part (a very small part) of me is happy to be back in this lockdown limbo. I’m getting to spend more time with my family, the pace of life is slower and many of our business problems are in limbo so there is very little that can be done. The limbo is the fear of what post new lockdown release is going to bring. With talk of the recovery not taking effect in Scotland until 2024, that is a long time to coast. The debris of cost from the lockdown; changes in future work patterns with more people choosing to work from home; fall in consumer confidence (due in part to the many changes in what has been permissible in hospitality to date) and the restrictions on international travel will be tangible negatives for hospitality, especially for our city centres. Staycations will be the word for 2021 but our cities will need to be vibrant to be able to attract our UK travellers. The darkest hours are just before dawn. I feel the dawn may be some way off.
For anyone who isn’t surrounded by loved ones, this lockdown limbo and more importantly the prospect of longer term travel bans and quarantine means many are missing the connections that keep us in balance. Many of our team and our own family would travel between Europe and Scotland 3 or 4 times a year. Environmentally this may be having a positive impact but socially and economically it’s very painful.
Our venues are all city centre focused. Our business has been supported bysocial, corporate and tourist trade. The benefits of the Edinburgh Festivals in particular have been a key part of our success. It’s clear to anyone walking around town that city centre footfall is non-existent yet some of the suburbs are booming. Forgive me for being the party pooper but I am stunned when I see a complete lack of social distancing, no masks and a general air of life is normal in some areas of the city. Planet Stockbridge seems like New Zealand. Last Saturday when we were doing deliveries you would have thought it was a rugby weekend. Did somebody not get the memo?!
New Zealand; now there isa country that has got their Covid act in order. New Zealand feels like a different planet. Has our biggest mistake been keeping our borders open? Seeing images of live concerts with thousands of people seems like fake news given the huge loss of life suffered at home and the constraint to our liberty that we are enduring.
I can understand curtailing large events where social distancing is difficult to manage, but to have restricted and closed down hospitality as much as it has been, seems folly. One of our suppliers told Alina yesterday that we are one of eight who is still giving them some business. Before Covid they had 300 customers. He is now the only person still working in his own company. It’s so so sad. There is little or no support for businesses like this.
Now we know that we are living with this virus/disease for perhaps ever, do we not need to rethink our policy on restrictions when we come out of lockdown?
I can’t bear the thought of coming out of lockdown and still not being able to serve a glass of wine with a plate of pasta.
Hospitality must be allowed to open with a limited sale of alcohol. We are not the problem. We are part of the solution. The solution for our communities and our businesses. Alcohol sales, however limited, will be vital to allow venues to be self sufficient and sustainable post lockdown.
On Thursday the Scottish Parliament’s Budget gave us an extension of the rates holiday for a further three months with the possibility of a further extension if it is supported financially by Westminster. Social distancing will be with us for some time even with vaccinations. I can see the “Rule of 6” being in place for at least this year, if not into next. Do I read too many reports or am I a realist? If covers and capacity are being restricted in restaurants then the offer of alcohol can’t be banned too. It’s serving no good.
News closer to home, The Edinburgh Book Festival is moving to the College of Art at Lauriston Place in 2021. Environmentally this is a good move. The grass will be greener in Charlotte Square Gardens. Utilising buildings over the festival, purpose built in part with lecture/theatre spaces with break out room to the fresh air, is a sensible and good choice.
Froma business viewpoint, losing The Book Festival is going to be another blow to the city centre. Without a doubt we have benefited hugely over the years. We will miss it very much. That excitement of post author lunch made us feel we were really at the festivals not just working at the festival. I think we need to get a little electric golf cart to shuttle everyone down to George Street, what do you think? This move is the first of, I’m sure, many that will shape the new vision of Edinburgh Festivals. Our city is changing in many ways. We need a new balance in many areas, especially in entertainment that is viable and sustainable. A tricky combination.
From a rates and rent valuation point of view the premiums that the city centre bricks and mortar premises have been paying for years to be at the heart of the transport, working, shopping and socialising centre will have to adjust. In Edinburgh, for hospitality and retail, the cherry went when the Assembly Rooms closed. This, in my opinion, was the start of the shift to an unsustainable festival model. Our beautiful purpose built venue served the city well. The move of The Book Festival is a sustainable move but will have a commercial impact. It looks like we can’t have our cake and eat it. None of us. We all need to take a little less.
I don’t buy the argument that rents (which in the majority are also based on upwards only rent reviews) are part of all our pensions and these must be protected at all costs. Businesses that have been forced to close or forced to trade to a reduced capacity can’t pay rent at the same level as their contracts. What do they say? “The value of your funds may go up and down”? This has to apply to property too. Thankfully there are many understanding landlords who are making long term decisions. With the lease forfeiture moratorium coming to an end in March, I very much hope more will see the bigger picture and provide pragmatic support to help our communities get through this limbo and help with the wider recovery which may look very different to the past. However there are fears this will not be the case. Calls for a government legislated rent free period for hospitality and a move to turnover rent while restrictions are in place can not be ignored. Covid has not been a seasonal change that can be easily absorbed, Covid has created a seismic change that needs significant adjustments.
With the massive shift to online shopping, Covid has fast tracked our use of internet shopping by upto 10 years. Our high streets, that were already struggling to adapt to online pressures, can’t be left to flounder. We need to bring residential use back to our cities, imagine redundant offices converted to affordable “owned” housing for city centre workers, rather than more hotels or B&B’s? We need both individuals and businesses to be able to afford to occupy our cities. Property rents must be able to go up and down to reflect demand and rates need to reflect these changes. This is particularly relevant for our retail neighbours. With Frasers, Debenhams, BHS and now Jenners all fading into our nostalgic retail memory we need to address this elephant in the room. Vacant shops and empty high streets will not do anyone’s pension any good. And the shiny new St James Quarter will only change the dynamic in Edinburgh even further. All things are no longer equal and the markets need to be able to readjust so as not to break. The long term view needs to be brought into focus. I think of Venice at the turn of this century; declining population, corruption, stifling rents, mass tourism followed by environmental destruction. Covid has added more challenges for every city that are too fundamental, particularly for Edinburgh, not to be fixed.
In short none of us know what the future holds. All we can do is ensure we make each day count. We don’t need to change the world, nobody will let me, but we do need to be able to put our heads on the pillow and know we’ve done the best for today at least. If it’s not been the best day, which at the moment we all know it often isn’t, then tomorrow can only be better. Covid has created opportunities for good change. Let’s make those good choices together.
What does Rhett Butler say?After all tomorrow is another day! Or was it Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn?!
We give a damn, I know you all do too! Keep well and keep safe and keep smiling.